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p220 Calceus

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp220‑222 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CALCEUS, CALCEAMEN, CALCEAMENTUM (ὑποδήμα, πέδιλον), a shoe or boot, p221any thing adapted to cover and preserve the feet in walking. The use of shoes was by no means universal among the Greeks and Romans. The Homeric heroes are represented without shoes when armed for battle. According to the institutions of Lycurgus, the young Spartans were brought up without wearing shoes (ἀνυποδησία, Xen. Rep. Lac. 2), in order that they might have the full use of their feet in running, leaping, and climbing. Socrates, Phocion, and Cato frequently went barefoot (ἀνυποδήτος, Aristoph. Nub. 103, 362; Xen. Mem. I.6 §2, pede nudo, Hor. Ep. I.19.12). The Roman slaves had no shoes (nudo talo, Juv. VII.16), their naked feet being marked with chalk or gypsum. The covering of the feet was removed before reclining at meals. [Coena.] To go barefoot also indicated haste, grief, distraction of mind, or any violent emotion, as when Venus goes in quest of Adonis (ἀσάνδαλος, Bion. I.21), and when the Vestals flee from Rome with the apparatus of sacred utensils (Flor. I.13). For similar reasons sorceresses go with naked feet, when intent upon the exercise of magical arts (Sen. Medea, IV.2.14; nuda pedem, Ovid, Met. VII.183; pedibus nudis, Hor. Sat. I.8.24), although sometimes one foot only was unshod (unum exuta pedem vinclis, Virg. Aen. IV.518), and is so painted on fictile vases. That it was a very rare thing at Rome to see a respectable female out of doors without shoes, is clear from the astonishment experienced by Ovid (Fast. VI.397), until he was informed of the reason of it, in a particular instance.

"Huc pede matronam vidi descendere nudo;

Obstupui tacitus, sustinuique gradum."

The feet were sometimes bare in attendance on funerals. Thus the remains of Augustus were collected from the pyra by noblemen of the first rank with naked feet (Suet. Aug. 100). A picture found at Herculaneum exhibits persons with naked feet engaged in the worship of Isis (Ant. d' ErcOl. II.320); and this practice was observed at Rome in honour of Cybele (Prudent. Peris. 154). In case of drought, a procession and ceremonies, called Nudipedalia, were performed with a view to propitiate the gods by the same token of grief and humiliation (Tertull. Apol. 40).

The idea of the defilement arising from contact with any thing that had died, led to the entire disuse of skin or leather by the priests of Egypt. Their shoes were made of vegetable materials (calceos ex papyro, Mart. Cap. 2) [Baxa.]

Those of the Greeks and Romans who wore shoes, including generally all persons except youths, slaves, and ascetics, consulted their convenience, and indulged their fancy, by inventing the greatest possible variety in the forms, colours, and materials of their shoes. Hence we find a multitude of names, the exact meaning of which it is impossible to ascertain; but which were often derived either from the persons who were supposed to have brought certain kinds of shoes into fashion, or from the places where they were procured. We read, for example, of "shoes of Alcibiades;" of "Sicyonian," and "Persian," which were ladies' shoes (Cic. De Orat. I.54; Hesych.); of "Laconian," of "Cretan," "Milesian," and "Athenian" shoes.

The distinctions depending upon form may be generally divided into those in which the mere sole of a shoe was attached to the sole of the foot by ties or bands, or by a covering for the toes or the instep [Solea; Crepida; Sandalium; Soccus]; and those which ascended higher and higher, according as they covered the ankles, the calf, or the whole of the leg. To calceamenta of the latter kind, i.e. to shoes and boots as distinguished from sandals and slippers, the term "calceus" was applied in its proper and restricted sense.a

Besides the difference in the intervals to which the calceus extended from the sole upwards to the knee, other varieties arose from its adaptation to particular professions or modes of life. Thus the CALIGA was principally worn by soldiers; the PERO, by labourers and rustics; and the COTHURNUS, by tragedians, hunters, and horsemen.

Understanding "calceus" in its more confined application, it included all those more complete coverings for the feet which were used in walking out of doors or in travelling. As most commonly worn, these probably did not much differ from our shoes, and are exemplified in a painting at Herculaneum (Ant. d'Ercolano, I. Tav. 21), which represents a female wearing bracelets, a wreath of ivy, and a panther's skin, while she is in the attitude of dancing and playing on the cymbals.


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On the other hand, a marble foot in the British Museum exhibits the form of a man's shoes. Both the sole and the upper leather are thick and strong. The toes are uncovered, and a thong passes between the great and the second toes as in a sandal.


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p222 The form and colour of the calceus were also among the insignia of rank and office. Those who were elevated to the senate wore high shoes like buskins, fastened in front with four black thongs (nigris pellibus, Hor. Sat. I.6, 27) and adorned with a small crescent (Mart. II.29; Juv. VII.192). Hence Cicero (Phil. XIII.13), speaking of the assumption of the senatorial dignity by Asinius, says mutavit calceos.º Among the calcei worn by senators, those called mullei, from their resemblance to the scales of the red mullet (Isid. Or. XIX.34),º were particularly admired; as well as others called alutae, because the leather was softened by the use of alum (Mart. Juv. ll. cc.; Lydus, de Mag. I.32; Ovid, De Art. Am. III.271).


Thayer's Note:

a Sometimes it's rather hard to tell. These for example, though they expose the toes and part of the top of the foot, are calcei:


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Details of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol:
early 20c photo, before restorations.
The fastening straps (corrigae) can be seen quite nicely,
attached at the sole, tied around the leg at the top.


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Page updated: 18 Oct 08